Maybe it’s my engineering background that compels me to take things apart.  I treat my writing no differently.  Before I sat down to write my first novel, I picked out four novels in the same genre and I dissected them.  I had no background in creative writing and this seemed like the best approach for me.  I broke down each story into component parts: action and reaction scenes, characters, their entrances and exits, and their motivations, changes in points of view, the plots and subplots, etc.  I did this chapter by chapter.  I read a chapter and made my notes.  When I reached the end I had a complete guide on how each book was created.  I could look over my notes and see how the threads pulled together and how all the parts connected to make a seamless narrative.  This exercise gave me a lot of confidence when I started outlining my novel.  It forced me to think about all the components that make a good book and helped me avoid the common errors of a novice writer.

I still analyze my favorite books every time I begin a new book.  I find it puts me in the mood to write my story and sharpens my mind.  I use unabridged audio books now.  It allows me to make notes while I listen.

Writing is an art, but it’s not all instinctual.  There’s a mechanical side to good storytelling and to master it, you need to know how it works.

Simon Wood

PS: Apologies for the brevity of this entry, but I had a death in the family this week and I’m busy with family matters.

7 thoughts on “ANATOMY OF A STORY

  1. MJ

    Simon I did that too! I wrote one novel – realized what crap it was. Had no training in creative writing – didn’t want to go back to school so I took four books I loved and anyalyzed them. Remains of the Day, Rebecca, Catcher in The Rye and The Music School. I gave myself a year to study the books and then sat down and wrote the second novel. It got me an agent and was eventually published as my third novel. It was a great way to learn.

  2. Naomi

    I’ve found this exercise very helpful as well. I don’t get much out of “how to write” books (although I think I got this idea initially from a book), but doing my own analysis certainly demystifies what is necessary in constructing a good manuscript.

    Hope you are doing as well as you can be during this time, Simon.

  3. JT Ellison

    I did this too. When I was just starting, I knew something was missing from my writing. I took a John Sandford novel and plotted it out on art paper. Seeing the arc structure made it all come alive. It’s an excellent exercise, one I do to this day.So sorry for your loss, Simon. You’re in my thoughts.

  4. Julia Buckley

    Simon, I’m sorry to hear about the death in your family.

    And it must be your engineer’s brain; I have a lazy brain, and while I love reading other people’s works, I have never wanted to dissect them. 🙂

  5. Pari

    This is great advice, Simon. I’ve never tried it in a systematic way; now might be the time.

    Please take care and take time to grieve.



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